LABOR’S Declan Clausen appears almost certain to become the youngest person ever elected to Newcastle council following a tight finish in Saturday’s byelection.
When counting closed on Saturday night, the 22-year-old was 648 votes clear of his independent challenger Kath Elliott.
While preferences and postal votes are still to be counted, it is expected that preferences flowing from the Greens will be enough to get the young environmental engineer across the line.
‘‘I’m really happy with the result and I think it reiterates the mandate that Nuatali Nelmes got at the lord mayoral election - it’s clearly about restoring council services,’’ Mr Clausen said.
Ms Elliott said the result was ‘‘nothing like a mandate’’.
Mr Clausen’s primary vote was standing at only 43 per cent, she said, meaning 57 per cent didn’t vote for him.
‘‘I congratulate Declan, but this is not a mandate. They need to listen to the people who didn’t vote Labor, and those people are the vast majority,’’ she said.
Mr Clausen received loud cheers as he entered Kotara Bowling Club to claim victory, flanked by lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes and federal MP for Newcastle Sharon Claydon.
He said his first actions will be to ‘‘restore the services cut by the McCloy council to ensure that I’m true to the people who voted for me’’.
The former Lambton High School captain and Young Labor president is a former Newcastle Young Citizen of the Year and played leading roles in environmental initiatives such as ClimateCam and TogetherToday.
Ms Elliott, the former Newcastle Alliance chief, said she’d ‘‘be back in 18 months’’ to contest the council election.
‘‘A lot of people voted for change,’’ she said. ‘‘If (independent candidate) Allan Warren didn’t run, I’d have won, but I’m happy with what we’ve been able to do. I gave people an alternative. Unfortunately we’re going to see Labor getting the council back into the red - you can’t keep spending and putting rates up by 50 per cent and expect that everything is going to be okay.’’
Election day was not without its controversies with accusations of dirty tricks coming from several camps.
A pamphlet authorised by the Labor party and distributed to thousands of homes on the eve of the election was getting the most attention on Saturday. The brochure questioned the affiliations of Ms Elliott and carried a mock photo of her superimposed next to Prime Minister Tony Abbott and former Newcastle lord mayor Jeff McCloy. It also referred to her managing the last state election campaign for Liberal John Church.
‘‘I’ve never met Jeff McCloy in my life, let alone the prime minister,’’ Ms Elliott said.
‘‘It’s dirty and it’s disgraceful and it’s not true. I am an independent and I’m not a member of any party. I’m a swinging voter myself.’’
Spotted among Ms Elliott’s campaign helpers was Liberal councillor Lisa Tierney who had donned a purple Kath Elliott T-shirt and was photographed handing out her voting paraphernalia. Another notable helper in the Elliott camp was independent Newcastle councillor Allan Robinson.
‘‘Lisa is a friend and she rang me a week ago and asked if I needed help on election day,’’ Ms Elliott said. ‘‘If a friend from the Labor party offered to help me I’d welcome that as well. That’s what can happen when you’re an independent - you don’t have to take sides with the big political parties.’’
At the close of counting on Saturday night, Mr Clausen had polled 7591 first preferences, followed by Ms Elliott on 6943. The Greens’ Nevenka Bareham had polled 1908, followed by independent Allan Warren on 1045 and Arjay Martin on 345.